The iPad is easily the best tablet you can buy right now, but that's changing. Google showed off their upcoming tablets today, casting a spotlight on the iPad's shortcomings. Here are the Android features we wish we had on our iPads.
A Helpful, Simple, and Non-Intrusive Notification System
The Android vs. iOS fight isn't relegated to cellphones anymore. Google's tablet-focused Android operating system is introducing several great new features to Android-based tablets that we like considerably more than their feature-counterparts on the iPad. The notification system in iOS has always been nothing more than a series of pop-ups and long an annoyance of its users. This has been an issue on the iPhone, but it's particularly frustrating on a tablet where there's so much more space to make use of less-intrusive options. Android's new built-in notifications are extremely useful and stay out of your way. Music controls are easily brought up from the bottom of the screen and don't require the double-click of the home button and an additional swipe just to pause or change songs. When you receive a message in Android, you get a nice little message that fades in at the bottom of the screen to let you know without any additional interruption. On the iPad, all notifications come through the same pop-ups that not only interrupt what you're doing but can sometimes cause so much of an interruption that it'll cause you to lose a game you're playing, lose your position in a web video, or cause a few unintended typos.
True, Useful Multitasking
While iOS never claimed to have true multitasking, Apple's avoided it primarily due to battery life and performance concerns. While we can't know how battery life will be affected by multitasking on newer tablet hardware, the upcoming dual-core processors designed for tablets are certainly showing more than enough power to handle true multitasking. Android 3.0's new multitasking panel is not only easier to bring up with just a tap on the screen (as opposed to a double click of the iPad's home button), but it also provides full previews of running applications and is easy to navigate. This is a simple, effective part of the user interface and it's something Apple should have figured out already. Even the jailbreak community has found a way to do it effectively, so it would be nice to see better multitasking in an official iPad software update sooner than later.
A Better Home Screen
While I can understand the grid-like organization on the iPhone and iPod touch, the iPad has so much room with its big screen that it just seems wasteful to use it in the same way. With folders, we can organize apps on our iPad easily and not have to worry about ridiculous numbers of pages. On my iPad, I have yet to fill up an entire page for that reason. Why not utilize that space better and let us place widgets and other things on our home screen? Many apps would work better as widgets anyhow, and it would be a new class of apps that could be sold in the iTunes App Store that are both useful and easy to develop. It's a win-win.
A (Better) Camera App
Ever notice how there are a ton of better camera apps for iOS? It's because the one included in iOS is basically just a button. The iPad doesn't even have a camera yet, but that's an expected feature in the second generation. Hopefully Apple will take this opportunity to add a few more features to the camera application so we're not just stuck with a shutter. While I love Apple's "only what you need" philosophy, I think most of us need more than a single button and a photo/video toggle switch to take good photos with a cellphone camera. While Google's camera app might be a little heavy on the feature side, it would be nice to see the iPad's upcoming camera bring an app with it that is a nice compromise between the two.
Buying Apps in a Web Browser and Not Syncing
I think the iTunes App Store works pretty well, whether you're purchasing apps on your computer or directly from your iPad. Where the new Android Market Web Store really wins is how easily you can buy apps on your computer, send them to your device, and avoid syncing altogether. I haven't been shy about how much I hate syncing with the bloatware that is iTunes, and if I could have one new feature on iOS it would be the ability to comfortably cut the cord. Please don't continue to make us sync, Apple. It's annoying, tedious, and slow. Android has the right idea here. Take note.
Where the iPad Still Wins
Even with these great new features coming to Android tablets (at some point in the indefinite future), the iPad is still pretty good. Here are a few points where the iPad still holds strong despite the aforementioned shortcomings:
- Design: Sure, design is a matter of taste, but it's hard to argue that in many ways, the iPad's (and iOS') simple is look better. Design is not Google's strength, and so design is always like to win out on the iPad.
- Simplicity: Again, you can chalk this up to taste. If you prefer simplicity, the iPad has it. If you like whiz-bang widgets and navigation features, the upcoming Android tablets have them. The main difference: Your non-geeky friends might not know what's going on when you've finished tweaking your Android tablet. Anyone can grok the iPad.
- AirPlay: The media-streaming capabilities that AirPlay brings to iOS devices are excellent. They're simple, elegant, and well-integrated in the OS. We've yet to see anything as good on Android.
- Hardware: We realize in the note above we mentioned that we're not focusing on hardware, but the fact is, Apple almost always wins on the hardware front. Nicer screens, a better feel, and so on. That said, Gizmodo's Jason Chen also really liked the hardware when he gave Android 3.0 a hands-on.